Planning well underway for milestone Waikato economic development summit

More than 200 of the Waikato region’s key people are expected at a major economic development summit at the end of August.

It’s the first important activity for the newly minted Waikato Regional Economic Development Agency (Waikato REDA) and will determine the region’s top initiatives and priorities for the next 24 months and beyond.

Following the summit, which is being held at the Sir Don Rowlands Centre near Cambridge, the agency will develop a finalised list of economic development initiatives that will have the greatest impact on the Waikato and its people. It will then begin working with government and funders around those initiatives and has promised to keep everyone in the region regularly updated.

Waikato REDA Establishment Board Chair Dallas Fisher says the formation of the region’s first official economic development agency, and its summit, are the most important local economic milestones in 20 years.

“This a vital time for us. Our region has suffered because of low investment by government and other funders over the years – largely because we haven’t made our case well enough,” Mr Fisher says. “The development of this agency and the work it will achieve in the coming years are designed to address that deficit so we can move to the next level and have some serious impact on the well-being of our communities.”

While the Waikato does reasonably well in some areas, it does suffer from a lack of cohesion, he says. “We know it’s the Waikato way to be out there, just doing things off your own bat. Waikato REDA will take the passion and knowledge we have around us, harness it, and layer on the strategic help that’s missing.”

The organisation’s high-level objectives are to lift economic performance in the Waikato; attract, retain and grow investment, talent and business across the region; and champion and provide one voice for regional economic and business needs and opportunities (becoming a front door for the region).

Mr Fisher says the summit marks a major turning point for the region. It is being designed to consider great ideas and then agree “what economic development initiatives will have the greatest impact for the Waikato and its people”.

And that, he says, is at the heart of Waikato REDA because it plans to use impact-focused economic development to make a difference so good outcomes flow through to all individuals. “That’s about driving initiatives that we know will go to the heart of those important markers of a community’s well-being: social, economic, environmental and cultural.

“We all know there are some great ideas out there for the region and we’ll be drilling down into which specific ideas will deliver the greater economic outcomes we seek for our communities - and that comes from focusing on delivering jobs, boosting productivity, bringing big players to the region while also being cognizant of our resources and how we’re treating people and the environment.”

Mr Fisher says there’s been a huge response to the summit. “We’ve been truly encouraged by the number of people who have very quickly committed to the full two days, and who obviously understand the significance this has for the future of all communities in the broader Waikato region.”

The Waikato Regional Economic Development Agency (Waikato REDA) came into existence on 1 July; it’s a limited liability company, owned by the Waikato Regional Economic Development Trust. Waikato REDA has a current establishment board and will call for expressions of interest in a skills-based, permanent board before the end of the year.

Mr Fisher has previously chaired Waikato Means Business, the region’s 20-year economic development strategy, created with input from civic, business and Māori leaders. As well as taking strong direction from Waikato Means Business, Waikato REDA has taken a lead from the Waikato Plan, an overarching strategic plan developed by the region’s leaders that has targeted investment and economic development as two of its priorities.

The new agency acknowledges all the research and hard work that’s been done in the past few years, Mr Fisher says, and is proud to be standing on the shoulders of some great people and organisations. “We’re ready to take on that challenge of bringing everything together and acting as the lead voice for the region.”

Waikato REDA will be based at Innovation Park, at the Ruakura campus in Hamilton, with WIPLtd CEO, Stuart Gordon in the establishment CEO role. A recruitment drive is underway for a permanent CEO.

Mr Fisher says Waikato REDA is very deliberately being built on the work of the Business Growth Services team, under the Waikato Innovation Park umbrella. The team works closely with NZTE and Callaghan Innovation to help grow businesses across the region, and will now be part of Waikato REDA.